I was sitting in a metal folding chair in a hotel ballroom. The speaker had just said something that hit me so hard that I couldn’t listen to what she said next. I needed to stop and process that statement. I was thinking, “Holy crap!” and “Well, now that she’s said it, it seems so obvious. Why didn’t I figure this out before?”
The speaker was head of admissions at an elite private university. She was talking to a group of elite high school students and their parents, and what she said was this, “It is not my job to make the perfect admissions decision on your kid. No one is paying me to do that. It is my job to build the next freshman class.” She went on to point out something we already knew: The school could only accept a small fraction of the fully qualified applicants.
As high school students, or parents of high school students, or maybe just members of the public with an opinion, we tend to view the process from the outside in. And it’s like looking into a fish bowl; the view is distorted. We tend to walk around with an impression of the process, and we think that it works something like this: The school takes all of the applications and ranks them from first to last. Then it takes enough applications off the top of the list to fill the class, and boom! Done! And because we subconsciously realize that it would be impossible to rank the kids from first to last without considering numerical measures like GPA’s and test scores, we assume these must play a very large role in the process. If my kid doesn’t get in, that means he didn’t rank high enough on the list. The fact is, it doesn’t work that way. A lot of factors come into play. At the end of the admissions period, the incoming class needs to have all kinds of kids: Some who play on the football team and some who play in the band, some who join the Young Democrats and some who join the Young Republicans, some who build robots and some who work on the school newspaper. All of them need to have a shot at doing the course work.
Lots of factors come into play, and it is certain that the school did not make the exact right admissions decision for every single applicant. They may not have made the exact right decision on your kid. I’ve been there, and you have my sympathy. It doesn’t mean they’ve made a value judgment about your kid, and it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have done well there. It just means when they selected the components of the class, they didn’t select your kid. They may have made a mistake. Or maybe not. Either way, the system isn’t broken. Because making the perfect decision on your kid wasn’t one of their goals in the first place.